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The LG G5 Is a Modular Powerhouse

For a few years now, we’ve been fans of what LG has done with their smartphones — if nothing else, they’ve always managed to be different. Today, they’re announcing the LG G5, and while from the outside it looks a lot more similar to its competitors (we’ll miss the leather-backed option), this new phone does have a few unique features that are worth checking out, including a slate of accessories that significantly expand what this phone is capable of.

The G5 is LG’s flagship phone for 2016, and they’ve finally decided to fall in line with the other premium phones — this one has an aluminum frame, and the back can’t be replaced (which means the leather back case is also no more). The phone loses a bit of its character in the process, but there is some good news here — the drawbacks usually associated with unibody phones don’t apply here. There’s a microSD card slot, but more importantly the battery can be slid out from the frame and replaced, something we hope becomes an industry standard (although we’ll admit smartphone battery life is finally getting decent and QuickCharge technology makes charging lightning fast, anyway).

The G5 is 7.7 mm thick, with rounded edges and a protruding bar for the two (yes, two) rear camera lenses. LG has managed to cleverly hide the antenna lines you usually see on the back of smartphones, giving the back of the phone a cleaner look. To get the battery out, the entire bottom part of the phone slides off with the battery attached. That means you can replace the battery, but you can also replace the bottom part of the phone with other modular accessories LG has created for the G5.

The specs bear out the G5’s status as a premium phone. It wasn’t that long ago that the LG G series was the biggest of the premium phones, but now it’s more in the middle with a 5.3″ 2560 x 1440, 554 ppi display. It’s a bit smaller than last year’s G4, but the display quality is just as sharp. The G5 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC (their newest, which hopefully won’t have the overheating issues of the 810) with 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage (expandable by up to 2 TB with the microSD card slot). The G5 is powered by a 2,800 mAh battery that can be ejected from the case, making this phone the only unibody metal smartphone we’re aware of that has a replaceable battery. That’s a pretty small battery for all these premium features, so it’s a good thing it can be replaced (and that QuickCharge technology has been included).

The G4’s cameras were strengths last year, and it looks like it’ll be the same with the G5. There are actually two lenses on the rear of the camera — a standard lens that can get 16 MP shots and a wide angle lens that can get 8 MP shots. The front camera has an 8 MP sensor. Optical image stabilization, LED flash, and laser auto-focus all return, so the G5 should be every bit as good with photography as the G4 and the V10.

Speaking of the V10, you might remember that that phone had a small, always-on second screen that could display important information like time, weather, and notifications without having to wake the phone up. On the G5, that functionality has been extended to the entire main screen, doing away with the need for the second screen altogether. The Always-On Display will have that information on the screen at all times, but this shouldn’t be too much of a battery drain — the LED backlight only lights up a small part of the display in this mode. It’s great to see this kind of functionality come standard with an Android phone — the similar Glance Screen has long been a mainstay on Windows phones, and was quietly a very convenient feature. There’s also a Daylight Mode that will optimize the display for use in direct sunlight.

All the usual premium connectivity options are here, including LTE, 802.11 ac Wi-Fi, NFC, GPS, and Bluetooth 4.2. And, it looks like LG will be among the many Android phone makers that will make the leap to the USB Type-C connector this year, replacing the old Micro USB charging port. Better find your local e-waste center, because that tangled mass of stockpiled Micro USB cords you’ve accumulated is going to be useless in at most a few years.

But, what’s this about modularity? Well, it’s halfway between marketing speak and reality. It’s not modular in the way many might think when they hear the word — you can’t swap out basic components like the cameras or processor to extend the life of the phone. Instead, LG releasing a huge slate of accessories that can be attached to the G5 to expand what it’s capable of. Two in particular are pretty cool because they work by replacing the bottom part of the phone. The LG Cam Plus is a physical camera frame that adds buttons and a more stable grip to the G5, while also increasing battery life. The LG Hi-Fi Plus, made with Bang & Olufsen, is a digital-to-analogue converter that supports playback at a very high bitrate (keep in mind you’ll need lossless music files and a better than average pair of headphones to really take advantage of this, though). The one unfortunate thing here is that changing modules necessitates removing the battery, which will restart the phone.

The rest of the accessories are being released as LG Friends. LG 360 VR is a virtual reality headset that works with the G5 and the Google Cardboard development platform. It does have one up on other mobile VR headsets — the phone can be attached to the headset using a cable instead of being inserted, making the headset much lighter and more comfortable to wear. If you want to create your own VR content, there’s the LG 360 Cam, a 360-degree camera that uses back-to-back 200-degree angle 13 MP sensors. Our personal favorite is the LG Rolling Bot, which has its own camera that can act as a home surveillance device, streaming video to a mobile device wirelessly. They’ll also be releasing a Bluetooth headset, earphones, and a physical controller for drones.

The LG G5 will be available in silver, titan (grey), gold, and pink, but LG hasn’t yet announced pricing or availability details. It’s without a doubt looking like one of the best smartphones of 2016, and with the modular options, we’re not sure any other Android phones is going to be as versatile and powerful this year. LG has been entrenching itself as a serious player with the G line, and it looks like 2016 might be the year they really start picking up steam.

UPDATE 02/21/2016: AT&T and T-Mobile have confirmed they will carry the LG G5 and LG Friends accessories.

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